Winter is a time for resting and nesting, for reconnecting with quiet and stillness and conserving our energy. While it is dark and cold outside let your yoga practice be a light in the darkness. For this Winter practice see if you can find ease in stillness during each pose.
Begin by taking a moment to centre yourself and find peace and quiet in the present moment. Close your eyes, focus on your breath and, without changing your breathing in any way, observe, without judgement, how you are breathing, notice how your breath feels as it enters your body and as it leaves. Take a deep inhale and on your exhale try to let go of any tension that you are feeling. When you feel ready to begin your practice open your eyes. Take a moment to stretch your arms overhead and gently stretch and twist side to side.
Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Stand with your feet approximately hip width apart, hands by your side, palms facing outwards, with a slight buoyancy in your knees and with your eyes closed. Breathe in slowly for a count of 3 and exhale for a count of 4, do this five times and observe, without judgement, how your body feels in the pose. Can you find ease in the stillness?
From Tadasana step the legs out wide, keeping the feet parallel, engage the thigh muscles, inhale and lift your chest and, as you exhale lean forward from the torso, as you come forward press your fingertips into the ground and come into Prasarita Padottanasana (wide legged forward fold). This pose is known to relieve tension and fatigue. Breathe in for a count of 3 and exhale for a count of 4 five times. With each exhale see if you can release tension. To come out of the pose bend your knees and slowly roll your way back up to standing.
Come to sitting with your legs straight out in front of you. Exhale, bend your knees, pull your heels towards your pelvis, drop your knees out to the side and bring the soles of the feet together. You can choose to stay here or you can place your hands on the floor in front of you and walk them forwards as far as is comfortable for you, placing your head on the floor or a block or cushion. Breathe in for a count of 3 and out for a count of 4 for five rounds. See if you can ease into the stillness of the pose. When you are ready on an inhale come back up to seated, lift your knees away from the floor and extend your legs back to their original position.
Come to standing in Tadasana, on an exhale, step the feet wide apart. Raise the arms parallel to the floor and reach them actively to the sides with the palms facing down. Turn the right foot slightly to the right and the left foot out to the left 90 degrees. Firm the thighs and turn your left thigh outwards so that your ankle is in line with your knee. Exhale and bend the left knee over the left ankle while strengthening the right leg and pressing the outer right heel to the floor. Stay here in Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II) for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Inhale to come up. Reverse the feet and repeat for the same length of time on the other side.
Come back to standing in Tadasana. Bend your knees slightly, lift your left foot up and, balancing on your right foot, cross your left thigh over the right. Point your left toes toward the floor, press the foot back, and then hook the top of the foot behind the lower right calf. Balance on the right foot. Stretch your arms straight out in front of you, then cross them in front of your torso so that your right arm is above the left and bend your elbows, place the right elbow into the crook of the left and raise your forearms so that the backs of your hands are facing each other, press the right hand to the right and the left hand to the left so the palms are facing each other, press the palms together (as much as is possible for you), lift your elbows up, and stretch the fingers toward the ceiling so that you are in Garudasana (Eagle pose). Stay for 15 to 30 seconds, then unwind the legs and arms and stand in Tadasana again. Repeat for the same length of time with the arms and legs reversed.
Come down to a kneeling position on your mat. Take your knees out mat width apart, bring your toes to touch and sit back onto your heels, exhale to bring your torso between your thighs, bring the arms out in front of you and rest your head on your mat (or a block) and stay here in Balasana (child’s pose) for a few minutes. If you have difficulty sitting on your heels try placing a thickly folded blanket between your back thighs and calves. Balasana provides us with an excellent opportunity to breathe consciously and fully into the back of the torso. When you are ready to come out of the pose lengthen the front torso, and then with an inhale lift from the tailbone.
Come to lying down on your back with your knees bent, pull your heels towards your pelvis, drop your knees out to the side and bring the soles of the feet together. The natural tendency in this pose is to push the knees toward the floor in the belief that this will increase the stretch of the inner thighs and groins. But especially if your groins are tight, pushing the knees down will have just the opposite of the intended effect, it may help to place blocks or cushions under the thighs. Stay here in Supta Baddha Konasana (reclined bound angle pose) for as long as is comfortable for you. To come out, use your hands to press your thighs together, then roll over onto one side and push yourself away from the floor. This pose is known to help relieve the symptoms of stress, mild depression, menstruation and menopause.
Come to sit sideways with your right side (left side if you are left handed) next to a wall. Exhale and, with one smooth movement, swing your legs up onto the wall and your shoulders and head onto the floor. Lift and release the base of your skull away from the back of your neck and soften your throat. Take a small rolled up towel under your neck if the cervical spine feels flat. Open your shoulder blades away from the spine and release your hands and arms out to your sides, palms up. Stay here in Viparita Karani (legs up the wall) for five minutes, seeing if you can enjoy the stillness and be at peace with just being there, observe how your body is feeling. When you are ready to come out of the pose bend your knees and turn to the side, stay on your side for a few breaths and come to sitting on an exhale.
Finally it is time to rest in Savasana. Come to lying in a neutral position with the legs angled evenly relative to the mid-line of the torso, and the feet turned out equally. Soften, without flattening, the lower back. If it feels more comfortable for you go ahead and rest your head on a cushion or rolled up blanket. Turn the arms outward with the palms of the hands resting on the ground, facing upwards. Take time here in Savasana to absorb your practice, relaxing all your muscles and your senses and being aware of your breathing. Come back to your intention to find ease in stillness. If possible try to spend at least 5 minutes in Savasana. When you feel ready to come out of the pose roll gently on an exhalation onto one side. Take 2 or 3 breaths. On an exhalation press your hands against the floor and lift your torso followed by your head (the head should always come up last).
Take some of the stillness and peace that you have found in this practice with you, knowing that you have the inner strength to take on the season with an energised body, a calm mind and a full heart.